Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders/Chapter 7
The Bogle, Brownie, Dobie—Brown Man of the Muirs—Killmoulis—Redcap—Powries or Dunters—Wag-at-the-Wa’—Habetrot—Cowlug E’en—Thrumpin—Dunnie—Hobhole Hob—Hob Headless—Hob Thrush—Peg Powler—Peg-o’-Nell—Cauld Lad of Hilton—The Radiant Boy—Silky—Picktree Brag—Hedley Kow—Kludde—Oschaert—Padfoot—Barguest—Capelthwaite—Northern Sprites compared with those of Devon—The Evil Spirit—Cloutie’s Croft—The Minister and Satan—The Devil trying all Trades—Praying aloud.
“Ye had need to tak care how ye dispute the existence of fairies, brownies, and apparitions: ye may as weel dispute the Gospel of Saint Matthew. We dunna believe in a’ the gomral fantastic bogles an’ spirits that flay light-headed folk up an’ down the countree; but we believe in a’ the apparitions that warn o’ death, that save life, and that discover guilt. I’ll tell ye what we believe ye see. The deil and his adjents, they fash none but the gude folk—the Cameronians and the prayin’ ministers an’ sic like. Then the Bogles, they are a better kind o’ spirits; they meddle wi’ nane but the guilty; the murderer, an’ the mansworn, an’ the cheaters o’ the widow an’ fatherless, they do for them. Then the Brownie, he’s a kind of half-spirit, half-man; he’ll drudge, and do a’ the work about the town for his meat, but then he’ll do no wark but when he likes for a’ the king’s dominions. That’s what we a’ believe here awa’ auld and young.”
I do not find that in Yorkshire the Bogle bears the peculiar character of a minister of retribution here assigned him. At least the following story, communicated by Mr. Robinson, does not represent him in exactly that light. In a village in Arkingarthdale a house had long been haunted by a Bogle, and various means had been resorted to in order to drive him out. At last the owner adopted the following plan. Opening his Bible he placed it on a table with a lighted candle and said aloud to the Bogle, “Noo, thoo can read or dance, or dea as ta likes.” He then turned round and walked up stairs. The Bogle, in the form of a grey cat, flew past him and vanished into the air. Years passed without its being seen again. However one day as the man was going to work the thing met him on the stairs. He turned back, told his mother of the apparition, went out again, and was killed that day in the mines. A Bogle, or something akin to one, appears however in the following narration as the protector of a poor widow. At the village of Hurst, near Reeth, lived a widow who had been wronged out of some candles by a neighbour. This neighbour saw one night a figure in his garden, so he brought out his gun and fired it, on which the figure vanished. The next night while he was in an out-house the figure appeared in the doorway and said, “I’m neither bone, nor flesh, nor blood, thou canst not harm me. Give back the candles, but I must take something from thee.” So saying he pulled an eyelash from the thief’s eyelid and vanished. The candles were promptly restored the next morning, but the thief “twinkled” ever after.
Of the good old Brownie, that faithful ally of the Scottish household, I have little new to tell. He seems a denizen of the Shetland Islands, the Highlands of Scotland, and the Western Isles, as well as of the Borderland. I must warn you, however, not to confound him with the Dobie, a creature of far less sense and activity. In fact, the Dobie was what I have heard a poor woman called her husband’s ghost, “a mortal heavy sprite;” and hence the common border phrases, “Oh ye stupid Dobie!” or “She’s but a senseless Dobie.” The Brownie was therefore preferred as a guardian of hidden treasure, and to him did the Borderers commit their money or goods, when, according to the custom prevalent in wild insecure countries, they concealed them in the earth. Some form of incantation was practised on the occasion, of which I can only learn one part—the dropping upon the treasure the blood of a slaughtered animal, or burying the slain animal with it.
The Brownie is believed in Berwickshire to be the ordained helper of mankind in the drudgery entailed by sin: hence he is forbidden to receive wages. He is allowed his little treats, however, and the chief of these are knuckled cakes made of meal warm from the mill, toasted over the embers and spread with honey. The housewife will prepare these, and lay them carefully where he may find them by chance. When a titbit is given to a child, parents will still say to him, “There’s a piece wad please a Brownie.” A bowl of cream was also a favourite dish. If a family desired to get rid of their inmate, they had only to lay out for him a new hood and cloak, and he would take leave of them, singing—
“A new mantle and a new hood,
Poor Brownie! ye’ll ne’er do mair good.”
“Gie Brownie coat, gie Brownie sark,
Ye’se get nae mair o’ Brownie’s wark.”
A lady of Scottish extraction, Mrs. M–––, writes thus to me: “It is curious what dislike Brownies have to clothing. There was one in the old peelhouse where I was born. The servants, out of gratitude for his assistance, gave him what they deemed an indispensable portion of man’s attire. Unfortunately it was part of a suit of livery, and he vanished crying—
“Red breeks and a ruffled sark!
Ye’ll no get me to do yer wark.”
The story dates from my great grandfather’s time; but the old dark closet where Brownie dwelt still exists, though dark no longer.”
But not the Brownie alone, with his kindred Northern sprites, is driven away by gifts of clothing. Devonshire Pixies are equally sensitive on this point. It is recorded that one of them on receiving a new suit vanished, exclaiming—
“Pixy fine, Pixy gay,
Pixy now will run away.”
Nay, a simple word of praise will drive them away, as we learn from the following tale. A farmer at Washington, in Sussex, who had often been surprised in the morning at the large heaps of corn threshed for him during the night, determined at last to sit up and watch what went on. Creeping at midnight to the barn-door and looking through a little chink in it he saw two little “Piskies” working away with their fairie flails, and only stopping now and then for an instant to say to each other “See how I sweat! see how I sweat!” the very thing that befell the “lubbar fiend” in L’Allegro. The farmer in his delight cried out “Well done, my little men,” on which the sprites uttered a loud cry and vanished, never to work again in that barn.
The little Swedish Tomte, though he will receive donations of bread, cheese, and even tobacco, is spoiled for work by new clothes; and when a housewife, in gratitude for the meal he sifted in her meal-tub, placed a suit for him on the edge of the tub, he did nothing more for her. He found that the meal damaged his new kirtle, so he cast the sieve away and repeated—
“The young spark is fine,
He dusts himself!
Never more will he sift.”
And the Dutch Kaboutermannekin, or Redcap, on receiving new clothes vanishes never to retnrn. A miller in Kempnerland thus rewarded his Redcap for a good deal of hard work expeditiously got through; but the goblin, having put on the clothes and strutted about proudly in them, disappeared. The miller, missing his drudge, laid wait for him on a little bridge over a brook, which the Kaboutermannekin used to cross every evening. He watched the sprites as they passed, some clothed, some naked, and last of all came his household sprite in his new suite. “Haha!” said the miller, “have I got thee?” and was about to seize little Redcap, when a voice like that of his wife was heard from the rivulet, crying for help. The miller turned and jumped into the water, and in a moment all the mannekins were gone.
Cranshaws, in Berwickshire, was once the abode of an industrious Brownie, who both saved the corn and thrashed it for several seasons. At length, after one harvest, some person thoughtlessly remarked, that the corn was not well mowed or piled up in the barn. The sprite took offence at this, and the next night threw the whole of the corn over the Raven Crag, a precipice about two miles off, muttering—
“It’s no weel mowed! It’s no weel mowed!
Then its ne’er be mowed by me again;
I’ll scatter it owre the Raven stane,
And they’ll hae some wark e’er it’s mowed again.”
This little story is taken from Mr. George Henderson’s Popular Rhymes of Berwickshire. It reminds us of the Manx Phynnoderee, who, when the farmer complained of his not cutting the grass sufficiently close to the ground, left the grumbler to cut it himself next year, but went after him stubbing up the roots so fast as almost to cut off the man’s legs. The Phynnoderee liked clothing as little as the Brownie, and once, when rewarded for special service by the present of a few articles of dress, he lifted them up one by one exclaming,—
“Cap for the head! alas, poor head!
Coat for the back! alas, poor back!”
and so on, till, with a melancholy wail, he departed, never to return. Both sprites, like Milton’s “drudging goblin,” delighted in the “cream-bowl duly set,” but the Brownie at least would have resented the charge of labouring to “earn” it. Sir Walter Scott relates how the last Brownie in Ettrick Forest, the Brownie of Bodsbeck, vanished when the mistress of the house placed a porringer of milk and a piece of money in his haunts. He was heard to howl, and cry all night, “Farewell bonnie Bodsbeck!” and in the morning disappeared for ever. The Ettrick Shepherd has given the title of the “Brownie of Bodsbeck” to a tale, in which an exiled Cameronian assumes the character of this mysterious being, and thereby gains shelter and support.
If the Scottish homesteads have their attendant sprites, the wild moorlands are not without their mysterious denizens. In a letter from Mr. Surtees to Sir W. Scott, given in the memoir prefixed to vol. iv. of Surtees’s History of Durham, we read, on the authority of an old dame named Elizabeth Cockburn, how in the year before the Great Rebellion two young men from Newcastle were sporting on the high moors above Elsdon, and at last sat down to refresh themselves in a green glen near a mountain stream. The younger lad went to drink at the brook, and raising his head again saw the “Brown man of the Muirs,” a dwarf very strong and stoutly built, his dress brown like withered bracken, his head covered with frizzled red hair, his countenance ferocious, and his eyes glowing like those of a bull. After some parley, in which the stranger reproved the hunter for trespassing on his demesnes and slaying the creatures who were his subjects, and informed him how he himself lived only on whortleberries, nuts, and apples, he invited him home. The youth was on the point of accepting the invitation and springing across the brook, when he was arrested by the voice of his companion, who thought he had tarried long, and looking round again “the wee brown man was fled.” It was thought that had the young man crossed the water the dwarf would have torn him to pieces. As it was he died within the year, in consequence, it was supposed, of his slighting the dwarf’s admonition, and continuing his sport on the way home.
Killmoulis is a peculiar species of Brownie, who haunts the mill, and resides in the killogee, or space before the fireplace in the kiln. One would suppose that he took his name from the kiln, but Mr. Wilkie considers “kill” to be a corruption of “gill,” and “killmoulis” to mean the miller’s servant. This sprite is a singular creature, for he appears to have no mouth; yet the following rhymes testify to his taste for swine’s-flesh:—
Auld Killmoulis wanting the mow,
Come to me now, come to me now!
Where war ye yestreen when I killed the sow?
Had ye come ye’d hae gotten yer belly fou.
Killmoulis takes the liveliest interest in the miller and his mill. Should any misfortune threaten them he will wail piteously. At the same time he often torments the goodman sorely by throwing “isles” or ashes out when sheelin or shelled oats are spread out to dry; nor will he leave off his mischievous tricks till the miller calls out,
“Auld Killmoulis wanting the mow,
Come to me now,”
on which he appears, puffing and blowing, in the shape of an old man, the mouth wanting, but with an enormous nose.
Killmoulis will never quit the “logie,” his favourite corner, except to thrash the corn in great emergency, or to ride for the howdie, when the miller’s wife needs her services—an errand he will fulfil expeditiously enough, though with some rough usage of the horse.
Every mill was haunted by its own Killmoulis; hence the number of wild stories which linger round these secluded spots. In Roxburghshire Killmoulis is thus drawn into the spell of the “blue clue,” a divination practised on All-hallowe’en and at other times. You must throw the clue into a pot alone in the gloaming, and wind the worsted on a new clue. Towards the end of the winding Killmoulis will hold the thread. You must ask “Wha holds?” and he will snort out the name of your future spouse.
It appears from Thorpe’s Mythology (vol. iii. p. 187), that the mills of Holland are haunted too, but by sprites of a more friendly character, bearing the unwieldly name of Kaboutermannekins. In the village of Gelrode, when the millstone was worn, the miller had only to lay it before his mill at night, together with a slice of bread and butter and a glass of beer, and he was sure to find it in the morning beautifully set.
Redcap, Redcomb, or Bloody Cap, is a sprite of another sort from the friendly Brownie. He is cruel and malignant of mood, and resides in spots which were once the scene of tyranny—such as Border castles, towers, and peelhouses. He is depicted as a short thickset old man, with long prominent teeth, skinny fingers armed with talons like eagles, large eyes of a fiery-red colour, grisly hair streaming down his shoulders, iron boots, a pikestaff in his left hand, and a red cap on his head. When benighted or shelterless travellers take refuge in his haunts, he flings huge stones at them; nay, unless he is much maligned, he murders them outright, and catches their blood in his cap, which thus acquires its crimson hue.
This ill-conditioned goblin may, however, be driven away by repeating Scripture words, or holding up the Cross; he will then yell dismally, or vanish in a flame of fire, leaving behind him a large tooth on the spot where he was last seen.Now here we plainly have the “Redcap sly” who sat in Hermitage Castle with the evil Lord Soulis, sorcerer and tyrant alike, and Warden of the South and West Marshes. To him Redcap said:
“While thou shalt bear a charmèd life,
And hold that life of me,
’Gainst lance and arrow, sword and knife,
I shall thy warrant be.
“Nor forgèd steel nor hempen band
Shall e’er thy limbs confine;
Till threefold ropes of sifted sand
Around thy body twine.”
And when the evil lord was taken, and by the aid of Michael Scott’s book,“True Thomas,” shaped the ropes “sae curiously,” we are told, that—
Redcap sly unseen was by,
And the ropes would neither twist nor turn.
It was, however, beyond Redcap’s power to save his lord from his final doom, and, as the spae-book directed, Lord Soulis was boiled to death in a brazen cauldron on the Nine-stane Rig.
I find this goblin referred to in an old proverb given in the Denham Tracts: “He caps Bogie, Bogie capt Redcap, and Redcap capt Old Nick,” corresponding with the Lancashire saying, “He caps Wryneck, and Wryneck caps the Dule,” i.e. the Devil. And Sir Walter Scott says of him: “Redcap is a popular appellation of that class of spirits which haunt old castles. Every ruined tower in the South of Scotland is supposed to have an inhabitant of this species.”
Mr. Wilkie has recorded the following lines, which he calls “a common song about Redcap”:—
Now Redcap he was there,
And he was there indeed;
And grimly he girned and glowed,
Wi’ his red cowl on his head.
Then Redcap gave a yell,
It was a yell indeed;
That the flesh neath my oxter grew cauld,
It grew as cauld as lead.
Auld Bluidie-cowl ga’ed a girn,
It was a girn indeed;
Syne my flesh it grew mizzled for fear,
And I stood like a thing that is dead.
Last Redcowl gave a laugh,
It was a laugh indeed;
’Twas mair like a hoarse, hoarse scrough,
Syne a tooth fell out o’ his head.
In East Lancashire stands a public-house called Mother Redcap, doubtless in allusion to some local tradition of a witch.
There are Redcaps in Holland too, but they have little in common with the Scottish Redcap, except the name. They are nearer akin to the Brownie, whom they resemble in their attachment to certain homesteads, in the diligence with which they perform manual labour, and in their abrupt departure on receiving a guerdon in the form of clothing. The Dutch Redcaps light fires during the night, which are invisible save to themselves, but warm the house; and the few sticks they leave of the Hausfrau’s stock of brushwood serve her as long as a great bundle, and give double the warmth. They are clad in red from head to foot, and have green hands and faces. A Redcap once made the fortune of a poor man by doing all the work of his little farm, and especially by churning at night more butter than any one else could get from the milk. The man became possessor of a whole herd of cows, and laid up a stocking-full of shining dollars. But, prosperity corrupting him, he grew idle and dissolute, and finally abused Redcap, and threw the bundle of firewood prepared for him by the gudewife into the well. On this the sprite disappeared: the wife was seized with illness, the stocking was only filled with coals, the cows died, and all went to ruin. The peasant begged and prayed that Redcap would return, but to no purpose; he was only answered by the laughs and jeers of the goblin outside the cottage.
Powries, or Dunters, are also sprites who inhabit forts, old castles, peel-towers, or dungeons; and they constantly make a noise there as of beating flax, or bruising barley in the hollow of a stone. If this sound is longer or louder than usual, it portends a death or misfortune. Popular tradition reports that the foundation-stones of these old Border castles were bathed with human blood by their builders the Picts; no wonder then that they were haunted in some way or other.
Wag-at-the-wa’, another Border sprite, is mentioned in the following verses, which Mr. Wilkie took down from the recitation of an old lady in the village of Bowden, Roxburghshire:
Wag-at-the-wa’ went out i’ the night,
To see that the moon was shining bricht,
The moon she was at the latter fa’,
“’Gang hame to yer heds!” cried Wag-at-the-Wa’.
“Why d’ye wag the witch nickit crook,
When the pyet’s asleep where the corbies rook?
Hell’s e’en shimmert on ye i’ the moon’s latter fa’,
And ruin’s fell couter will harry ye a’.”
“I maun gae fra’ ye, tak’ tent what I say,
Gae tear frae the sowie an armfu’ o’ hay,
Fling wisps i’ the fire till it mak’ a red low,
Frae the eizels will rise up a dead man’s pow.
“The pow will stare ugsome, but dinna heed that,
Thud fast o’ the wisps, and beware o’ the cat,
For she will yer fae be, wi’ teeth and wi’ claw,
An’ her mewing will soon warn auld Wag-at-the-wa’.
“Whenever the e’en holes wi’ low sail be fou,
Then is the time that we maun dread the pow,
For Hell’s e’en are firelike and fearfu’ to view,
And they oft change their colour fra’ dark red to blue.
“They pierce like an elf, prick ilk ane that they see,
Then beware o’ their shimmer, if yer seen ye will dee,
Your heart’s pulse will riot, your flesh will grow cauld,
Oh, how happy the wight that draws breath till he’s auld!
“Then fly frae the house, to the green quick repair,
And Wag-at-the-wa’ will full soon meet ye there,
As ye kneel ’neath the Hood and mutter yer prayer. . . .”
These obscure lines do not give us much information respecting Wag-at-the-wa’. We are told elsewhere, however, that he is a sort of Brownie, who presided over the Border kitchen, where he acted family monitor, but was a torment to the servants, especially to the kitchen-maid. His seat was by the hearth, or on the crook or bar of iron, terminating in a large hook, which may be seen in old houses hanging by a swivel from a beam in the chimney to hold pots and kettles. Whenever the crook was empty, Wag-at-the-wa’ would take possession of it, and swing there with great complacency, only absenting himself when there was a death in the family. He was fond of children and of household mirth, and hence his attachment to the ingle. When droll stories were told his laugh might be heard distinctly; but if he heard of any liquor being drunk, except home-brewed ale, he would cough and be displeased.
His general appearance was that of a grisly old man, with short crooked legs, while a long tail assisted him in keeping his seat on the crook. Sometimes he appeared in a grey mantle, with the remains of an old “pirnicap” on his head, drawn down over that side of the face which was troubled with toothache, a constant grievance of his; but he commonly wore a red coat and blue breeches, both garments being made of “familie woo.”
Altogether there is something uncannie about this ancient sprite, and the mode of his disappearance (for he has passed away from the Scottish ingle) does not speak well for him. A deep cut is now invariably made in the iron of the crook in the, form of a cross, and is called the witches’ mark, because it warns witches from the fire. This sign also scares away auld Wag-atthe-wa’, and keeps him from touching the crook. Still it is deemed wrong and foolish ever to wag the crook, since it is a sort of invitation to the sprite to return. Mr. Wilkie says that he has seen a visitor rise up and leave the house, because one of the boys of the family idly swung the crook: she was so horrified, at this “invokerie” that she declared “she wad na abide in the house where it was practised.”
Mr. Wilkie says the sign of the cross was in like manner marked on many tools and utensils, down to the “torwoodie” of the harrow, as a protection against sprites of doubtful character—a singular preservative in Presbyterian Scotland! In many parts of England, however, we find an analogous use of this sign. The Durham butchers mark it on the shoulder of a sheep or lamb after taking off the skin, probably because in the peace-offerings of old it was the priest’s portion; the housewives mark it on their loaves of bread before placing them in the oven. In the West of England, I believe, the cross is more commonly made on the dough when set to rise.
In the old days, when spinning was the constant employment of women, the spinning-wheel had its presiding genius or fairy. Her Border name was Habetrot, and Mr. Wilkie tells the following legend about her:—
A Selkirkshire matron had one fair daughter, who loved play better than work, wandering in the meadows and lanes better than the spinning-wheel and distaff. The mother was heartily vexed at this taste, for in those days no lassie had any chance of a good husband unless she was an industrious spinster. So she cajoled, threatened, even beat her daughter, but all to no purpose; the girl remained what her mother called her, “an idle cuttie.”
At last, one spring morning, the gudewife gave her seven heads of lint, saying she would take no excuse; they must be returned in three days spun into yarn. The girl saw her mother was in earnest, so she plied her distaff as well as she could; but her little hands were all untaught, and by the evening of the second day a very small part of her task was accomplished. She cried herself to sleep that night, and in the morning, throwing aside her work in despair, she strolled out into the fields, all sparkling with dew. At last she reached a flowery knoll, at whose feet ran a little burn, shaded with woodbine and wild roses; and there she sat down, burying her face in her hands. When she looked up, she was surprised to see by the margin of the stream an old woman, quite unknown to her, “drawing out the thread” as she basked in the sun. There was nothing very remarkable in her appearance, except the length and thickness of her lips, only she was seated on a self-bored stone. The girl rose, went to the good dame, and gave her a friendly greeting, but could not help inquiring what made her so “lang lipit.” “Spinning thread, ma hinnie,” said the old woman, pleased with her friendliness, and by no means resenting the personal remark. It must be noticed that spinners used constantly to wet their fingers with their lips as they drew the thread from the rock or distaff. “Ah!” said the girl, “I should be spinning too, but it’s a’ to no purpose, I sall, ne’er do my task;” on which the old woman proposed to do it for her. Overjoyed, the maiden ran to fetch her lint, and placed it in her new friend’s hand, asking her name, and where she could call for the yarn in the evening; but she received no reply; the old woman’s form passed away from her among the trees and bushes, and disappeared. The girl, much bewildered, wandered about a little, set down to rest, and finally fell asleep by the little knoll.
When she awoke she was surprised to find that it was evening. The glories of the western sky were passing into twilight grey. Causleen, or the evening star, was beaming with silvery light, soon to be lost in the moon’s increasing splendour. While watching these changes, the maiden was startled by the sound of an uncouth voice, which seemed to issue from below a self-bored stone, close beside her. She laid her ear to the stone, and distinctly heard these words: “Little kens the wee lassie on the brae-head that ma name’s Habetrot.” Then looking down the hole she saw her friend, the old dame, walking backwards and forwards in a deep cavern among a group of spinsters all seated on colludie stones (a kind of white pebble found in rivers), and busy with distaff and spindle. An unsightly company they were, with lips more or less disfigured by their employment, as were old Habetrot’s. The same peculiarity extended to another of the sisterhood, who sat in a distant corner reeling the yarn; and she was marked, in addition, by grey eyes, which seemed starting from her head, and a long hooked nose.
While the girl was still watching, she heard Habetrot address this singular being by the name of Scanthe Mab, and tell her to bundle up the yarn, for it was time the young lassie should give it to her mother. Delighted to hear this, our listener got up and turned homewards, nor was she long kept in suspense. Habetrot soon overtook her, and placed the yarn in her hands. “Oh, what can I do for ye in return?” exclaimed she, in delight. “Naething—naething,” replied the dame; “but dinna tell yer mither whae spun the yarn.”
Scarcely crediting her good fortune, our heroine went home, where she found her mother had been busy making sausters, or black puddings, and hanging them up in the lum to dry, and then, tired out, had retired to rest. Finding herself very hungry after her long day on the knoll, the girl took down pudding after pudding, fried and ate them, and at last went to bed too. The mother was up first the next morning, and when she came into the kitchen and found her sausters all gone, and the seven hanks of yarn lying beautifully smooth and bright upon the table, her mingled feelings of vexation and delight were too much for her. She ran out of the house wildly crying out—
“Ma daughter’s spun se’en, se’en, se’en,
Ma daughter’s eaten se’en, se’en, se’en
And all before daylight!”
A laird, who chanced to be riding by, heard the exclamation but could not understand it; so he rode up and asked the gudewife what was the matter, on which she broke out again—
“Ma daughter’s spun se’en, se’en, se’en,
Ma daughter’s eaten se’en, se’en, se’en
before daylight; and, if ye dinna believe me, why come in and see it.” The laird’s curiosity was roused; he alighted and went into the cottage, where he saw the yarn, and admired it so much, he begged to see the spinner.
The mother dragged in the blushing girl. Her rustic grace soon won his heart, and he avowed he was lonely without a wife, and had long been in search of one who was a good spinner. So their troth was plighted, and the wedding took place soon afterwards, the bride stifling her apprehensions that she should not prove so deft at her spinning-wheel as her lover expected. And once more old Habetrot came to her aid. Whether the good dame, herself so notable, was as indulgent to all idle damsels does not appear—certainly she did not fail this little pet of hers. “Bring your bonnie bridegroom to my cell,” said she to the young bride soon after her marriage; “he shall see what comes o’ spinning, and never will he tie you to the spinning wheel.”
Accordingly the bride led her husband the next day to the flowery knoll, and bade him look through the self-bored stone. Great was his his surprise to behold Habetrot dancing and jumping over her rock, singing all the time this ditty to her sisterhood, while they kept time with their spindles:—
We who live in dreary den,
Are both rank and foul to see,
Hidden frae the glorious sun,
That teems the fair earth’s canopie:
Ever must our evenings lone
Be spent on the colludie stone.
Cheerless is the evening grey,
When Causleen hath died away,
But ever bright and ever fair,
Are they who breathe this evening air;
And lean upon the self-bored stone
Unseen by all but me alone.
The song ended, Scanthe Mab asked Habetrot what she meant by her last line, “Unseen by all but me alone.” “There is ane,” replied Habetrot, “whom I bid to come here at this hour, and he has heard my song through the self-bored stone.” So saying she rose, opened another door, which was concealed by the roots of an old tree, and invited the bridal pair to come in and see her family.
The laird was astonished at the weird-looking company, as he well might be, and inquired of one after another the cause of the strange distortion of their lips. In a different tone of voice, and with a different twist of the mouth, each answered that it was occasioned by spinning. At least they tried to say so, but one grunted out “Nakasind,” and other “Owkasaand,” while a third murmured “O-a-o-send.” All, however, conveyed the fact to the bridegroom’s understanding; while Habetrot slily hinted, that, if his wife were allowed to spin, her pretty lips would grow out of shape too, and her pretty face get an ugsome look. So before he left the cave he protested his little wife should never touch a spinning-wheel, and he kept his word. She used to wander in the meadows by his side, or ride behind him over the hills, and all the flax grown on his land was sent to old Habetrot to be converted into yarn. Such are the tales of Border sprites which Mr. Wilkie has collected. He adds that the villages of Bowden and Gateside had a strange belief that on a certain night in the year (thence called “Cowlug e’en”) a number of sprites were abroad with ears resembling those of cows; but he could not discover the origin of the belief, nor which night was thus distinguished.
He mentions also that in the South of Scotland every person was supposed to be attended by a sprite, who had the power of taking away his life a strange perversion of the doctrine of Guardian Angels. This is called by the old name of “Thrumpin,” and is mentioned in these obscure verses:—
When the hullers o’ night are loosin’,
When the quakers are cramplin eerie;
When the moon is in the latter fa’,
When the owlets are scraughin drearie;
When the elleried are clumperin,
When the toweries hard are thrumping,
When the hawkie bird he kisses the yud,
Then, then’s the time for thrompin.
And gif ye miss the mystic hour,
When vengeful sprites are granted power,
To thrump ilk faithless wight;
The heavens will gloom like a wizard smile,
An’ the foremost will dim his carcase vile
Fra’ all uncannie sight.
For man and beast by the three stones light,
Hae little chance to thrive;
Till the sixty are past, and not till the last,
Can man and beast survive.
I have lately heard, from a clerical friend, of a strange Northumbrian sprite, who has been entirely passed over in any accounts of Northern Folk-Lore to which I have had access. This sprite is called the Dunnie; he appears to be of the Brownie type, and is located at Haselrigg, in the parish of Chatton, in Northumberland. Like others of his race, he is much addicted to mischievous, troublesome tricks, such as the following, in which he frequently indulges.
When the midwife is wanted in a farmer’s family, and the master goes out to saddle his horse that he may fetch her, the Dunnie will take its form. The false creature carries him safely, receives the midwife also on his back behind the farmer; but on their return, in the muddiest part of the road, he will suddenly vanish, and leave the unhappy pair floundering in the mud. Or, again, when the ploughman has (as he believes) caught his horse in the field, brought him home, and harnessed him, he will, to his dismay, see the harness come “slap to the ground,” while the steed kicks up his heels and starts across the country like the wind.
Some years ago, the Dunnie was often seen wandering among the crags of the Cheviots, and heard repeating the following verse again and again, in a melancholy voice:—
Cocken heugh there’s gear enough,
Collier heugh there’s mair,
For I’ve lost the key o’ the Bounders,
An’ I’m ruined for evermair.
Hence it has been thought that the Dunnie is really the ghost of a “reiver,” who had hoarded his ill-gotten pelf in those crags, and therefore haunts them constantly. In Mr. James Hardy’s paper on Legends respecting Huge Stones, the third line runs, “I’ve lost the key of the Bowden-door,” which corresponds still better with this legend.
Mr. Hardy further informs me that last spring, when passing a quarry at Haselrigg, a friend pointed to the steepest part of the rocks, and said it was there that Dunnie used to hang over his legs when he sat on the crags at night.
In my own county we have a sprite of a more benign character. He bears the homely name of Hob, and resides in Hob-hole, a natural cavern in Kunswick Bay, which is formed, like the fairy caves near Hartlepool and the recesses near Sunderland, by the action of the tides. He was supposed to cure the whooping-cough, so parents would take children suffering from that complaint into the cave, and in a low voice invoke him thus:—
Ma’ bairn’s gotten ’t kink cough,
Tak’t off! tak’t off!
Another sprite, called Hob Headless, infested the road between Hurworth and Neasham, but could not cross the Kent, a little stream flowing into the Tees at the latter place. He has been exorcised, however, and laid under a large stone formerly on the roadside, for ninety-nine years and a day. Should any luckless person sit on that stone, he would be unable to quit it for ever. There is yet a third Hob at Coniscliffe, near Darlington, but I have not been able to gain any information about him. Of a fourth the Vicar of Danby writes: “I have actually unearthed a Hob. He is localised to a farmhouse in the parish, though not in the township of Danby, and the old rhyme turns up among folks that could by no possibility have seen it or heard of it as in print:
Gin Hob mun hae nowght but Harding hamp,
He’ll come nae mair to berry nor stamp,
A Yorkshire Hob, or Hobthrush, of whom I am informed by Mr. Robinson, of Hill House, Reeth, seems a very Brownie in his powers of work and hatred of clothing. He was attached to the family residing at Sturfit Hall, near Reeth, and used to churn, make up fires, and so on, till the mistress, pitying his forlorn condition, provided him with hat and cloak. He exclaimed—
Ha! a cap and a hood,
Hob’ll never do mair good!
and has not been seen since.
The river Tees has its sprite, called Peg Powler, a sort of Lorelei, with green tresses, and an insatiable desire for human life, as has the Jenny Greenteeth of Lancashire streams. Both are said to lure people to their subaqueous haunts, and then drown or devour them. The foam or froth, which is often seen floating on the higher portion of the Tees in large masses, is called “Peg Powler’s suds;” the finer less sponge-like froth is called “Peg Powler’s cream.” Mr. Denham tells us that children are still warned from playing on the banks of the river, especially on Sundays, by threats that Peg Powler will drag them into the water; and he pleads guilty to having experienced great terror whenever, as a boy, he found himself alone by the haunted stream. The river Skerne too has a goblin or sprite, but of what character I have not learned. That of the Kibble is a Peg too, Peg o’ Nell. A spring in the grounds of Waddow bears her name, and is graced by a stone image, now headless, which is said to represent her.
Tradition avers that in days of old Peg o’ Nell was a servant at Waddow Hall. Before starting one morning to fetch water from the well, the girl offended her mistress the lady of Waddow, who thereupon expressed a wish that she might fall and break her neck. It was winter, and the ground was coated with ice. Peggy fell, and the malediction was fulfilled. But she had her revenge. Waddow Hall now became possessed of an evil genius. When the chickens were stolen, the cow died, the sheep strayed, or the children fell sick, all was due to Peg o’ Nell. And further she was inexorable in demanding every seven years a life to be quenched in the waters of the Kibble. When “Peg’s night,” the closing night of the period, came round, unless a bird, a cat, or a dog was drowned in the stream, some human being was certain to fall a victim there. Accordingly on one anniversary of the fatal evening a young man rode down to an adjoining inn on the way from Waddington to Clitheroe. No bridge then spanned the river at Brangerley; passengers crossed it at the ford, but it was so swollen on this occasion as to be unsafe. The young man was told of this, but he said he had business at Clitheroe, and must go on. The host and hostess tried hard to dissuade him from his purpose, while the maid added, “And its Peg ’o Nell’s night, and she has not had her life.” The traveller laughed and set off, but neither horse nor rider reached the opposite bank.
The stone image is probably that of some saint brought from either Whalley or Salley Abbey, neither of which are very far off.
The counties of Northumberland and Durham are certainly peculiarly rich in tricksy sprites. There is the Cauld Lad of Hilton, who haunted Hilton Castle in the Valley of the Wear. Seldom seen, he was heard night after night by the servants. If they left the kitchen in order, he would amuse himself by hurling everything widely about; if they left it in confusion, he would arrange everything with the greatest care. Harmless as he seemed, the servants got tired of him; so they laid a green cloak and hood before the kitchen fire, and set themselves to watch the result. At midnight the “Cauld Lad” glided in, surveyed the garments, put them on, frisked about, and, when the cock crew, disappeared, saying:
“Here’s a cloak and there’s a hood,
The Cauld Lad of Hilton will do no more good.
All this bespeaks him a sprite of the Brownie type; still he is in the neighbourhood deemed the ghost of a servant-boy, slain by an old baron of Hilton in a moment of passion. The baron had ordered his horse to be ready at a certain time, but waited for it in vain, so he went to the stable, found the lad asleep, and struck him a blow with a hay-fork, which killed him. The baron, it is added, covered the victim with straw till night, and then threw him into a pond, where indeed the skeleton of a boy was discovered years afterwards. Some verses, said to be sung by the Cauld Lad at dead of night, certainly accord well with the notion of his being a ghost:
Wae’s me, wae’s me,
The acorn’s not yet
Fallen from the tree,
That’s to grow the wood,
That’s to make the cradle,
That’s to rock the bairn,
That’s to grow to a man,
That’s to lay me!
The late Canon Humble once told me how a friend of his was startled during a midnight walk from Hilton to Sunderland on a dark night after an evening spent in conversation about the Cauld Lad. In the loneliest part of the road a blast was blown into the traveller’s face, not icy, indeed, but very warm. He leaped into the middle of the road, and his first impulse was to fly, but curiosity got the better of fear, and going back he found a cow with her head thrust into the path through a gap in the hedge.
Mrs. Murray, a lady born and brought up in the Borders, tells me of another Cauld Lad, of whom she heard in her childhood, during a visit to Gilsland, in Cumberland. He perished from cold, at the behest of some cruel uncle or stepdame; and ever after his ghost haunted the family, coming shivering to their bedsides before any one was stricken by illness, his teeth audibly chattering; and, if it were to be fatal, he laid his icy hand upon the part which would be the seat of disease, saying,
“Cauld, cauld, aye cauld,
An’ ye’se be cauld for evenmair!”
From Mr. Baring-Gould I learn of “a Radiant Boy, a spirit quite sui generis;” a boy with shining face, who has been seen in certain houses in Lincolnshire and elsewhere, but who was described more in detail by an old Yorkshire farmer bearing the nickname of John Mealyface. The account given by him to Mr. Baring-Gould runs thus: “John M. was riding one night to Thirsk, when he suddenly saw pass him a Radiant Boy on a white horse. There was no sound of footfall as he drew nigh. Old John was first aware of the approach of the mysterious rider by seeing the shadow of himself and his horse flung before him on the high road. Thinking there might be a carriage with lamps, he was not alarmed till by the shortening of the shadow he knew that the light must be near him, and then he was surprised to hear no sound. He thereupon turned in his saddle, and at the same moment the Radiant Boy passed him. He was a child of about eleven, with a fresh bright face. ‘Had he any clothes on, and if so what were they like?’ I asked; but John was unable to tell me. His astonishment was so great that he took no notice of particulars. The boy rode on till he came to a gate which led into a field; he stooped as if to open the gate, rode through, and all was instantly dark.”
About eighty or ninety years ago, the quiet village of Black Heddon, near Stamfordham, in Northumberland, was greatly disturbed by a supernatural being, popularly called Silky, from the nature of her robes. She was remarkable for the suddenness with which she would appear to benighted travellers, breaking forth upon them, in dazzling splendour, in the darkest and most lonely parts of the road. If he were on horseback, she would seat herself behind him, “rustling in her silks,” accompany him a certain distance, and then as suddenly disappear, leaving the bewildered countryman in blank amazement.
Silky had a favourite resort at Belsay, two or three miles from Black Heddon, on a romantic crag beautifully studded with trees, under whose shadow she would wander all night. The bottom of this crag is washed by a picturesque little lake, at whose outlet is a waterfall, over which a fine old tree spreads its waving branches, forming by their intersection a sort of chair. In this Silky loved to sit, rocked to repose by the wild winds, and it is still called Silky’s Chair; Sir Charles M. L. Monck, the present proprietor of the place, preserving the tree carefully, on account of the legend.
This sprite exercised a marvellous power over the brute creation, arresting horses in their daily work, and keeping them still as long as she was so minded. Once she waylaid a waggon bringing coals to a farm near Black Heddon, and fixed the team upon a bridge, since called, after her, “Silky’s Brig.” Do what he would, the driver could not make the horses move a step, and there they would have stood all night had not another farm-servant fortunately come up with some “witch-wood” (mountain-ash) about him. He went to the horses, and they moved on at once, but never did their driver dare to go abroad again without being well armed with witchwood.
In some respects Silky showed a family likeness to the Brownies. Like them she would, during the night, tidy a disorderly house; but if cannie decent people had cleaned their rooms, and arranged them neatly, especially on a Saturday afternoon, the wayward sprite would disarrange everything as soon as they were gone to bed, so that on Sunday morning all would be in the wildest confusion.
Silky disappeared from her haunts very suddenly. One day a female servant, being alone in one of the rooms of a house at Black Heddon, was terribly frightened by the ceiling above suddenly giving way, and a black mass falling through it with a crash upon the floor. She instantly fled out of the room, screaming at the pitch of her voice, “The devil’s in the house!—the devil’s in the house! He’s come through the ceiling!” The family collected around her in some alarm, and at first no one dared enter the room; when the mistress at last ventured to go in, she found on the floor a large rough skin filled with gold. From this time Silky was never more heard or seen, so it was believed that she was the troubled phantom of some person who had died miserable because she owned treasure, and was overtaken by her mortal agony before she had disclosed its hidingplace. The Rev. J. F. Bigge relates, however, that an old woman named Pearson, of Welton Mill, whom he visited on her deathbed, told him, a few days before her death, that she had seen Silky the night before, sittting at the bottom of her bed, all dressed in silk.
Mr. James Hardy, Silky’s historian, to whom I am indebted for these particulars respecting the wayward sprite, tells me of three sister spirits, also clad in silk attire. One is the family apparition of the mansion of Houndwood, in Berwickshire, and bears the quaint name of “Chappie.” A knocking was repeatedly heard at the front-door of this house, but only on one occasion was any one seen. Then a grand lady swept in, and went up the staircase, but was never seen again in or out of the house. Denton Hall, near Newcastle, was also haunted by a female form, clad in rustling silks, and so was a shady avenue near North Shields, This last Silky was thought to be the ghost of a lady who was mistress to the profligate Duke of Argyle in the reign of William III., and died suddenly, not without suspicion of murder, at Chirton, near Shields, one of his residences. The Banshee of Loch Nigdal, too, was arrayed in a silk dress, green in colour. All these traditions date from a period when silk was not in common use, and therefore attracted notice in country places.
Sir Cuthbert Sharpe, in his Bishoprick Garland, tells us of the Picktree Brag, a spirit as mischievous and uncannie us the Dunnie, who appeared in widely different shapes on different occasions. Sometimes it was like a calf, with a white handkerchief round its neck, and a bushy tail; sometimes, in form of a coachhorse, it trotted “along the lonin afore folk, settin’ up a great nicker and a whinny now and then.” Again it appeared as a “dick-ass,” as four men holding up a white sheet, or as a naked man without a head. Sir Cuthbert’s informant, an ancient dame, told him how her uncle had a white suit of clothes, and the first time he ever put them on he met the Brag, and never did he put them on again but some misfortune befel him. Once, in that very suit, returning from a christening, he encountered the Brag, and being a bold man, he leapt upon its back; “but, when he came to the four lonin ends, the Brag joggled him so sore, that he could hardly keep his seat; and at last it threw him into the middle o’ the pond, and ran away, setting up a great nicker and laugh, just for all the world like a Christian.”
The Hedley Kow was a bogie, mischievous rather than malignant, which haunted the village of Hedley, near Ebchester. His appearance was never very alarming, and he used to end his frolics with a horse-laugh at the expense of his victims. He would present himself to some old dame gathering sticks, in the form of a truss of straw, which she would be sure to take up and carry away. Then it would become so heavy she would have to lay her burden down, on which the straw would become “quick,” rise upright, and shuffle away before her, till at last it vanished from her sight with a laugh and shout. Again, in the shape of a favourite cow, the sprite would lead the milkmaid a long chase round the field, and after kicking and routing during milking-time would upset the pail, slip clear of the tie, and vanish with a loud laugh. Indeed the “Kow” must have been a great nuisance in a farmhouse, for it is said to have constantly imitated the voice of the servant-girl’s lovers, overturned the kail-pot, given the cream to the cats, unravelled the knitting, or put the spinning-wheel out of order. But the sprite made himself most obnoxious at the birth of a child. He would torment the man who rode for the howdie, frightening the horse, and often making him upset both messenger and howdie, and leave them in the road. Then he would mock the gudewife, and, when her angry husband rushed out with a stick to drive away the “Kow” from the door or window, the stick would be snatched from him, and lustily applied to his own shoulders.
Two adventures with the Hedley Kow are thus related. A farmer named Forster, who lived near Hedley, went out into the field one morning, and caught, as he believed, his own grey horse. After putting the harness on, and yoking him to the cart, Forster was about to drive off, when the creature slipped away from the limmers “like a knotless thread,” and set up a great nicker as he flung up his heels and scoured away, revealing himself clearly as the Hedley Kow. Again, two young men of Newlands, near Ebchester, went out one evening to meet their sweethearts; and arriving at the trysting-place, saw them, as it appeared, a short distance before them. The girls walked on for two or three miles; the lads followed, quite unable to overtake them, till at last they found themselves up to the knees in a bog, and their beguilers vanished, with a loud Ha! ha! The young men got clear of the mire and ran homewards, as fast as they could, the bogie at their heels hooting and mocking them. In crossing the Derwent they fell into the water, mistook each other for the sprite, and finally reached home separately, each telling a fearful tale of having been chased by the Hedley Kow, and nearly drowned in the Derwent.
Surely this Northern sprite is closely akin to Robin Goodfellow, whom Ben Jonson introduced to us as speaking thus:—
Sometimes I meete them like a man,
Sometimes an ox, sometimes a hound,
And to a horse I turn me can,
To trip and trot about them round.
But if to ride
My backe they stride,
More swift than wind away I go:
O’er hedge and lands,
Through pools and ponds,
I whirry laughing, Ho! ho! ho!
The Kludde of Brabant and Flanders, an evil spirit of a Proteus-like character, a good deal resembles the Hedley Kow, though, perhaps, he is of a yet more alarming and dreadful character. In fact, he inspires such fear among the peasants, that they will on no account venture into a forest, field, or road which is haunted by him.
Kludde often transforms himself into a tree, small and delicate at first, but rapidly shooting into the clouds, while everything it shadows is thrown into confusion. Again, he presents himself as a black dog, running on its hind-legs, with a chain round its throat; and will spring at the throat of the first person he meets, fling him to the ground, and vanish. Occasionally Kludde will assume the form of a cat, frog, or bat, in which disguises he may always be known by two little blue flames fluttering or dancing before him; but most commonly he appears as an old half-starved horse, and so presents himself to stable-boys and grooms, who mount on it by mistake, instead of on their own horse or mare. Kludde sets off at full speed, the frightened lad clinging on as best he may, till they reach water, into which he rushes and laughs wildly, till his victim, sullen and angry, has worked his way to dry land again.
Oschaert, a sprite which haunted the town of Hamme, near Dendermonde, was of much the same character. On one occasion it appeared to a young man who went out courting—first as an enormous horse, then like a huge dog, then as a rabbit springing backwards and forwards before his path; and finally like a gigantic ass, with fiery eyes as large as plates. It does not appear that Oschaert ever received travellers on his back; but he used sometimes to leap on theirs, and cling on with out-spread claws, till the poor victim came either to a cross-road or to an image of the Virgin, when his burden would fall off. On those who were troubled in conscience Oschaert used to press very heavily, striking his claws deep into their flesh, and scorching their necks with his breath. But all is past now. A good priest has exorcised the sprite, and banished him to the seashore for ninety-nine years, and there he wanders now.
Then, in Yorkshire, the villages around Leeds have a nocturnal terror called the Padfoot. He is described as about the size of a small donkey, black, with shaggy hair and large eyes like saucers; and he follows people by night, or waylays them in the road which they have to pass.
A certain Yorkshire woman, called Old Sally Dransfield, the carrier from Leeds to Swillington, is a firm believer in the Padfoot. She declares that she has often seen it—sometimes rolling along the ground before her, like a woolpack—sometimes vanishing suddenly through a hedge. My friend, the Rev. J. C. Atkinson, of Danby, speaks of the Padfoot as a precursor of death; as sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, but ever and anon padding lightly in the rear of people, then again before them or at their side, and uttering a roar totally unlike the voice of any known animal. Sometimes the trail of a chain would be heard, accompanying the light quick pad of the feet. In size it was somewhat larger than a sheep, with long smooth hair. It was certainly safer to leave the creature alone, for a word or a blow gave it power over you; and a story is told of a man, whose way being obstructed again and again by the Padfoot, kicked the thing, and was forthwith dragged along through hedge and ditch to his home, and left under his own window.
These creations of Northern fancy have, together with some individualisms, a good many attributes in common. I imagine that the Padfoot is the same with the Barguest, Bahrgeist, or Boguest of Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire, and the Boggart of Lancashire. The proverbial expression, “To roar like a Barguest,” attests to the hold he has had on the popular mind. His vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death; and, bearing this in mind, Sir Walter Scott’s derivation of his name from the German “bahrgeist,” spirit of the bier, seems the most probable among the many suggested. A friend informs me that Glassensikes, near Darlington, is haunted by a Barguest, which assumes at will the form of a headless man (who disappears in flame), a headless lady, a white cat, rabbit, or dog, or a black dog. There is a Barguest, too, in a most uncannie-looking glen, between Darlington and Houghton, near Throstlenest, and a circumstantial account has been supplied to me of one which haunts or haunted a piece of waste land above a spring called the Oxwells, between Wreghorn and Headingly Hill near Leeds. On the death of any person of local importance in the neighbourhood, the creature would come forth, a large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers, followed by all the dogs of the place howling and barking. If any one came in its way the Barguest would strike out with its paw and inflict on man or beast a wound which would never heal. My informant, a Yorkshire gentleman, lately deceased, said he perfectly remembered the terror he experienced when a child at beholding this procession before the death of a certain Squire Wade, of New Grange.
In the county of Westmoreland and some adjacent parts of Yorkshire there was formerly a belief in the existence of a similar being, called the Capelthwaite. He had the power of appearing in the form of any quadruped, but usually chose that of a large black dog. Fifty years ago there was, perhaps still is, in the parish of Beetham, near the town of Milnthorpe, a barn called Capeltbwaite barn, as having been the residence of such a being. He was very well disposed towards the occupants of the barn, who suffered him to haunt it unmolested. For them he performed various kind acts, especially helping them in driving home their sheep. On one occasion he is said, after a hard chase, to have driven a hare by mistake into the barn, observing, “How quickly that sheep runs.”
Towards all other persons he appears to have been very spiteful and mischievous, so much so that tradition tells of a Vicar of Beetham in former days going out in his ecclesiastical vestments and saying some prayers or forms of exorcism with intent to “lay” this troublesome sprite in the river Bela. Accordingly the Capelthwaite does not seem to have appeared in later times, except that a man of the neighbourhood who returned home late at night, tipsy, much bruised, and without coat or hat, persistently assured his wife that he had met the Capelthwaite, who threw him over a hedge and deprived him of those articles of dress.
There was also a farm in Yorkshire, not far from the town of Sedbergh, called Capelthwaite farm, and said to be haunted by such a being. Of his reputed doings I can give no account, further than that the stuffed skins of five calves were preserved there, which calves were born at a birth—a fact ascribed to the influence of the Capelthwaite. These particulars were communicated to me by the Rev. W. De Lancey Lawson.
Remarkable as are the points of resemblance between the Folk-Lore of the North and the West of England, the dissimilarity on certain subjects is equally remarkable. How widely do these grotesque and churlish goblins differ from the light and frolicsome Devonshire pixy! The pixy is mischievous too, but graceful and gay in his mischief. I have received from Mr. Baring Gould a very interesting description of a curious oil-painting preserved at Lew Trenchard House, Devon, representing the merrymaking of pixies, or elves perhaps, which maybe inserted here:—
“In the background is an elfin city, illumined by the moon. Before the gates is a ring of tiny beings, dancing merrily around what is probably a corpse candle: it is a candle-stump, standing on the ground, and the flame diffuses a pallid white light.
“In the foreground is water, on which floats a pumpkin, with a quarter cut out of it, so as to turn it into a boat with a hood. In this the pixy king and his consort are enthroned, while round the sides of the boat sit the court, dressed in the costume of the period of William of Orange, which is the probable date of the painting. On the hood sits a little elf, with a red toadstool as an umbrella over the head of king and queen. In the bow sits Jack-o’-lanthorn, with a cresset in his hands, dressed in a red jacket. Beside him is an elf playing on a jew’s-harp, which is as large as himself; and another mischievous red-coated sprite is touching the vibrating tongue of the harp, with a large extinguisher, so as to stop the music.
“The water all round the royal barge is full of little old women and red-jacketed hobgoblins, in egg-shells and crab-shells; whilst some of the imps who have been making a ladder of an iron boat-chain have missed their footing, and are splashing about in the water. In another part of the picture the sprites appear to be illuminating the window of a crumbling tower.”
The word fairy, so little in use now in the North of England, is however retained at Caldbeck, in Cumberland, where a curious excavation in a rock is called the Fairy’s Kettle, a neighbouring cavern twenty yards in length the Fairy Kirk, and other spots around bear similar appellations. The historian of Cumberland tells us that this place is “the scene of sundry superstitious notions and stories,” but unfortunately he did not think it worth while to preserve them. In a Shropshire village, near Coalbrookdale, it is still said that fairies dance in a ring in an adjoining field, and that any unlucky wight who stepped within the ring would be kept there and never allowed to leave the spot.
Respecting the Evil Spirit, the veritable Satan, I have collected but a few notices, though it must have struck my readers that Redcap and Wag-at-the-wa’ were suspiciously like him. Border tradition maintains that he has been known to assume the form of a black ram with fiery eyes and long horns, or of a sow, a bull, a goat or horse, a very large dog, or a brindled cat. It is impossible for him to take that of the lamb. Of birds he can only simulate the crow and the drake. The farmyard cock and hen, and the pigeon, are too pure for him to have anything to do with the former from their watchfulness, the latter because it has no gall-bladder. It is curious to compare this piece of Border Folk-lore with that of Devonshire, where it is said that the devil can assume all shapes except those of the lamb and the dove. A little girl, on the borders of Dartmoor, told this to one of my relations, adding, “He can’t make himself look like they, because of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.’
Mr. G. Henderson’s Popular Rhymes of Berwickshire tells us of a remarkable piece of service formerly done to the Evil One. “Cloutie’s croft,” he says, “or the gudeman’s field, consisted of a small portion of the best land, set apart by the inhabitants of most Scottish villages as a propitiatory gift to the devil, on which property they never ventured to intrude. It was dedicated to the devil’s service alone, being left untilled and uncropped, and it was reckoned highly dangerous to break up by tillage such pieces of ground.”
A little anecdote has been related to me by the minister of ———, on the Tweedside, which shows that the Evil Spirit is held to have power of molesting good Christians in wild lonely places. A country minister, after attending a meeting of his presbytery, had to return home alone, and very late, on a dark evening. While riding in a gloomy part of the road, his horse stumbled, and the good man was suddenly flung to the ground. A loud laugh followed, so scornful and so weird, that the minister felt no doubt of the quarter whence it proceeded. However, with a stout heart, he remounted without delay, and continued his journey, crying out, “Ay, Satan, ye may laugh; but, when I fall, I can get up again; when ye fell, ye never rose”—on which a deep groan was heard. This was firmly believed to have been an encounter with the Evil Spirit, and a great triumph for the dauntless minister.
In his Rambles on the Ribble Mr. Dobson records what professes to be a genuine Lancashire tale which has been told for generations by many a fireside on the banks of that river. There stood till recently in the town of Clitheroe a public-house bearing the strange name of Dule upon Dun, on the signboard of which the devil was depicted riding off at full speed upon a dun horse, while a tailor, scissors in hand, looked on with delight.
It appears that in former days, when the Evil One used to visit the earth in bodily form and enter into contracts with mortals, giving them material prosperity now in exchange for the soul at a future time, a tailor of Clitheroe entered into some such agreement with him. At the expiration of the term, however, the tailor having failed to receive any benefit at all from the agreement, asked from his Satanic Majesty the boon of “one wish more.” It was granted. A dun horse was grazing hard by, and the ready-witted tailor, pointing to the animal, wished that the devil might ride straight to his own quarters upon it and never come back to earth to plague mortal. Instantly the horse was bestridden by the Evil One, who speedily rode out of sight never to return in a bodily shape. People came from far and near to see the man who had outwitted the devil, and soon it occurred to the tailor to set up an alehouse for the entertainment of his visitors, taking for a sign the devil riding a dun horse, or as the neighbours called it for brevity “the Dule upon Dun.”
A strange story is told by Scottish firesides, how the devil desired to learn one trade after another, but failed in all. First, he would be a weaver, but he pricked his fingers with the pins of the temples, and threw up that occupation. A scrap of an old song speaks of his weaving days—
The weaver de’il gaed out at night
To see the new, new moon,
Wi’ a’ the traddles at his back,
An’ the sowin’ bag aboon.
Next he tried his fortune as a tailor, but first he sewed his fingers to the cloth, and then spoiled the sleeve of the coat he was making by cutting the curve of the elbow wrong; on which his master, out of all patience, ran the bodkin into his side and knocked him over the board with the goose. After this he took service with a blacksmith, and attempted to shoe a horse, but he only pricked the horse, and drove the nails into his own finger. As a farrier he maltreated the horse; as a tinker he split the caldrons he should have mended; as a carpenter he wounded himself with the chopper, bruised his hands with the plane, fell over the logs of wood he should have sawn, and got the toothache from the noise produced by filing the tools. Lastly, as a shoemaker, he took wrong measures, and lost the rubsticks which were under his care, till his master gave him a severe “yocking,” and disgusted him for ever with the awl and the last. Nothing remained to him but to start verse-maker, and wander from alehouse to alehouse, singing the drinking-songs he composed.
The honest Yorkshiremen under the Hambleton hills bring in the devil’s name when they account for their custom of saying their prayers aloud—a most praiseworthy one, though Margaret, in Much Ado About Nothing, reckons it among her “ill qualities.” They say that the devil hears them, and lets them alone for that night at least. Now it is remarkable that Sir Richard Baker, in his Meditations and Disquisitions upon the Lord’s Prayer (1638, p. 7), after recommending vocal prayer as pleasing to God, and giving cause of joy to the angels, proceeds: “We shall doe well to use vocall prayers if it be only to fright the devill. For he sees not our hearts, but he heares our tongues: and when hee heares our words, because he knowes not our hearts, hee feares they come from our hearts, and in that feare hee trembles: and we shall doe well, as much as we can, to keepe him under our feare, seeing he endeavours as much as he can to bring us under his power.”
- Sir Walter Scott seems unaware of this peculiar character of the Dobie. He considers it merely another name for the Barguest, of whom more hereafter; and mentions that he has been informed of some families of the name of Dobie, who carried in their armorial bearings a phantom or spectre passant.—Demonology and Witchcraft, letter iii. In a note to canto ii. of Rokeby he tells of the Dobie of Mortham, who haunts Greta Dell, but calls it a female spectre, the ghost of a lady formerly murdered in the wood.
- Danish tradition goes so far back as to state the origin of the different kinds of sprites. It is said in Jutland that, when our Lord cast the fallen angels out of heaven, some of them fell down on the mounds or barrows, and became Barrow-folk, or (as they are also called) Mount-folk or Hill-folk; others fell into the Elf-moors, and became the progenitors of the Elf-folk; while others fell into dwellings, from whom descend the domestic sprites or Nissir—the Brownies, in fact. Another Danish legend is as follows: While Eve was one day washing her children by a spring our Lord unexpectedly appeared before her. She was terrified, and concealed those of her children which were not yet washed. Our Lord asked her if all her children were there, and to avoid his anger, in case He should see that all her children were not washed, she answered, “Yes.” Then our Lord declared that what she had concealed from Him should thenceforth be concealed from mankind, and at the same moment the unclean children disappeared, and were buried under the hills. From these descend all the underground folk—Trolls, Elfs, &c.—Thorpe’s Mythology, vol. ii p. 115.
- Thorpe’s Mythology, vol. ii. p. 94.
- Ibid. vol. iii. p. 191.
- Border Minstrelsy, vol. i. p. 205.
- Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, vol. iv. p. 243.
- Thorpe’s Mythology, vol. iii. p. 181.
- This story, though not without variations, is radically the same as the three spinners of German household tales—Grimm, K.M. 14; Pretorius’ Gluckstopf, 404; Pescheck’s Nachrichten, i. 355; Müllenhoff, No. 8. In Norway we find the same story (Asbjörnsen, p. 69); and again in the collection of Neapolitan Household Tales made by Basile in the seventeenth century. We meet with it too in Lithuania (Schleicher, p. 12). The outline of the plot in all is as follows: A poor woman beats her daughter for idleness, and tells a merchant who is passing that she does it to compel her daughter to spin six hanks of yarn. The merchant at once proposes for the daughter, marries her, and then sets her to spin a large quantity of yarn during his absence on a journey. She is assisted by a fairy, who deceives the husband into forbidding his wife to spin any more.—S. B. G.
- From Rambles on the Ribble, by W. Dobson, p. 135.
- Yorkshire Oddities, vol. ii. p. 105.
- The Dunnie, Brag, and Hedley Kow are probably the same as the Nick or Nippen. The Irish Phooka takes the shape of a horse, and induces children to mount him, then plunges with them over a precipice. The Scotch Water Kelpie (Sir W. Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, p. 3) performs the same pranks. (Motherwell’s Minstrelsy, p. 93; Buchan’s Ancient Ballads, vol. i. p. 214.) The Icelanders have a lay to this effect. A damsel (Elen) goes to the waterside and is carried off on the grey Nykkur-horse, which she foolishly mounts. The Nykk claims her as his bride, but she escapes by saying that she will marry Nobody; and, as nobody is the Nykk’s name, the spell is broken and she escapes.
This is a widespread legend. It exists as a ballad in Faroese, as Nikurs Visa, hitherto unpublished.
In Norwegian it is found in Lanstad, No. 39, and in Fayes’s Norske Folksagn, second edition, p. 49.
In Swedish it is contained in Afzel, Nos. 11 and 89, and also in Sagohafder, vol. ii. p. 154.
In Danish we find it in Syv, No. 91; and in Danmarkes gamte Folke Viser, No. 39.
There are numerous German versions of the same: Meinert’s Altdeut. Volkslieder, i. 6, No. 4; Wunderhorn, iv. p. 77; Zuccalmaglio’s Deut. Volkslieder, No. 29; Deutsches Museum für 1852, ii. p. 164, &c.
A Wendish version occurs in Haup tu Schmaler, i. No. 34: a Slovakian ballad to the same effect in Achacel og Korytko, i. p. 30; Grimm’s [[de:Deutsche Sagen|]], No. 51; a Bohemian form of the same in Ida v. Dürengsfeld’s Bohmische Rosen, p. 183.
There is also a Breton popular ballad, very similar, in Villemarqué’s Barzaz Breiz, fourth edition, vol. i. p. 259.
The Icelandic version is in Islenzk fornkvœde ved Svend Grundtvig, pt. i. No. 2—S. B. G.
- A man in Horbury has lately seen “the Padfooit.” He was going home by Jenkin, and he saw a white dog in the hedge. He struck at it, and the stick passed through it. Then the white dog looked at him, and it had “great saucer e’en;” and he was so “flayed” that he ran home trembling and went to bed, when he fell ill and died. The “Padfooit” in this neighbourhood is a white dog like a “flay-craw.” It goes sometimes on two legs, sometimes it runs on three. To see it is a prognostication of death. I have no doubt that “the Padfooit” is akin to the two white sows yoked together with a silver chain which ran down the church lane in Lew Trenchard, Devon. It was the custom in ancient times to bury a dog or a boar alive under the cornerstone of a church, that its ghost might haunt the churchyard, and drive off any who would profane it, i. e. witches or warlocks.
In Sweden the beast which haunts churchyards is called the Kyrkogrim. It is there said that the first founders of Christian churches used to bury a lamb under the altar. When anyone enters a church out of service-time he may chance to see a little lamb spring across the quire, and vanish. That is the church lamb. Its appearance in the graveyard, especially to the gravedigger, is held to betoken the death of a child. In Denmark the animal is called the Kirkegrim.
A grave-sow is often seen in the streets of Kroskjoberg. This is said to be the apparition of a sow once buried alive, and to forebode death. In building a new bridge at Halle, which was completed in 1843, the people wanted to have a child immured in the foundation to secure its stability. S. B. G.
- I am informed by Mr. Dodson that there are several “boggart barns” in the neighbourhood of Preston—in fact, that almost every village contains one.
- Hutchinson’s History of Cumberland, vol. ii. pp. 388-9.
- A Sussex boy once told me, that, if a letter were placed under the pillow at night offering to the devil to sell one’s soul, the letter would be gone in the morning, and half-a-crown found in its place.—S. B. G.
- In several parishes in Devonshire is a patch of land hedged in, which is called Gallitrap (i. e. Gallows-trap), and considered uncannie. There is such a piece in the parish of Lew Trenchard. The superstition connected with it is that it is a gallows-trap, for if anyone “feyed” to be hung enters the field, he cannot leave it again, but must wander round and round it, without power to find the gate, or climb the fence, till the parson and the magistrate are sent for; the first to take the spell off him, the second to see to his being hung.—S. B. G.